THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Ducks – Right in a Rye Backyard

In a recent letter to The New York Times, Rye resident Lori Fontanes stated her opposition to NY DEC’s plan to kill off the non-native swans that live within the state’s boundaries.

Published March 7, 2014 5:00 AM
4 min read


LFontanes-thmbIn a recent letter to The New York Times, Rye resident Lori Fontanes stated her opposition to NY DEC’s plan to kill off the non-native swans that live within the state’s boundaries.


By Bill Lawyer    

LFontanes-at-coop-w-PuffIn a recent letter to The New York Times, Rye resident Lori Fontanes stated her opposition to NY DEC’s plan to kill off the non-native swans that live within the state’s boundaries. The letter is a clear indicator of Fontanes’ evolution from urban filmmaker and magazine editor to an active environmentalist and suburban farmsteader — and, the proud “parent” of four ducks.

Growing up in a blue-collar section of Philadelphia, she had little or no experiences with nature, wildlife, or farm animals. After graduating from Temple with a degree in journalism and filmmaking, Fontanes moved to Southern California to work for a group of outdoor-oriented magazines. Her work involved making training videos and editing promotional pieces to go along with the publications.

Slowly but steadily she became more interested in the fascinating ecology and natural history of California’s desert areas.

Her artistic career took a great leap forward with the acceptance of her documentary short, “Independence Day,” by the Sundance Film Festival.

The birth of her daughter 12 years ago, “was a life-changing experience for me,” she said thoughtfully. “Now my life was about her and what kind of world she would be growing up to live within.” From then on she utilized her artistic and “storytelling skills” (as she calls them), to promote a more balanced, sustainable lifestyle.

Fontanes became active in Democratic politics, and she actually ran for governor against (among others) Arnold Schwarzenegger. While she garnered few votes, the process provided her with confidence in her artistic and communications skills.

She worked to increase awareness of the impacts of pollutants and chemicals on health and safety. Her mother gave her a subscription to Mother Earth News, which helped inspire her to take on homegrown foods.

When her husband was transferred from Los Angeles to New York, she looked for a home where she would have ample space for a vegetable garden, thus reducing their reliance on industrially grown foods. And, she cooked more meals at home — from scratch — to be certain that all the ingredients were wholesome.

“Rye was the perfect choice for us,” Fontanes recounts. “The air is cleaner and there’s so much open space.”

After renting for a year, they moved into their current home in 2011. About half of their .44-acre property was converted to gardening. When asked what her husband thought about that, she joked: “Well, he had wanted a swimming pool, but since I’m the one at home doing the work, we forgot about the pool.”

Once the door was opened to backyard gardening, Fontantes began to read books and magazines about livestock. At first, she considered chickens, but she decided that ducks would be hardier and easier to manage. Reviewing Rye’s City Code, she concluded that she could easily comply with all the regulations.

In early spring of 2012, the Rye Post Office called to say they had received a delivery of five two-day-old ducklings – two Cayugas, two Welsh Harlequins, and one Buff Orpington – from a breeder in California.

At the same time that she ordered the ducks, Fontanes started writing a blog “What The Ducks!” through Geared to urban farmers, environmentalists, and animal lovers, the blog has attracted over 1,300 followers from around the world. Together, they have shared the joys and sorrows of raising pet ducks.

The ducks have adapted well to their (fenced-in) backyard habitat. Their fancy outdoor coop offers protection against nocturnal predators. On severely cold days, the ducks head to the heated garage.

Not everything is ducky however. Sadly, one duck died last summer, and another has difficulty laying eggs.

After consultations with a veterinarian like the veterinarian and duck experts, Fontanes has settled on feeding her ducks poultry pellets, which provide all their nutritional needs. They also get water and leaf lettuce. Cracked corn is given as an occasional treat. (When asked about the practice that some people have of feeding things such as bagels and white bread to ducks at local ponds, she says, “I’ll leave that for the experts to provide advice.”)

Overall Fontanes considers her project a great success. Her daughter Pamela has taken an active role in caring for the ducks, and is now involved with the YMCA and the Jay Heritage Center in promoting school gardens.

Fontanes is working with State Senator George Latimer and Assemblyman Steve Otis to stop the NY DEC from killing non-native swans. And, she’s working with Brooklyn College to study pollutant levels (mainly lead) in the soil, ducks and plants on her property.

She has even had an article of hers published in Backyard Poultry Magazine. And it all started right in her own backyard.

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